For nearly three weeks in October the United States government shut down. National parks and museums closed and 800,000 federal workers were sent home.
“This period of panic was not caused by some foreign aggressor, some archenemy of state, or some ruthless tyrant. No, the crisis that shook the very faith that the American people had in their government, was caused by that very body itself,” Jonathan Serota, a Jericho High School senior, said in a speech that began as part of a school trip and ended up circulating in print in the United States Capitol.
In December, Serota, 17, traveled to New Haven, Conn. for three days to participate in Yale University’s Model Congress, which gives students from across the country a chance to roleplay and simulate the United States Congress.
“All the kids go with pieces of legislation that they’ve drafted,” says Serota. “They go into committees and they have to debate to pass the bills.”
But Serota, who says his two passions are history and politics, took things a step further.
“I ran for President of the United States,” he says. “I had to give a speech, I had friends hold up posters and I was standing outside shaking hands with everyone as they walked in. I had some people behind me who looked like security guards and I had people taking pictures. It was really a lot of fun—like a little mock campaign and everyone was laughing, it was a good time.”
It also landed Serota, an intern for Congressman Steve Israel, a spot in the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. When Israel found out Serota was going to give a speech at Yale Model Congress he asked to read it.
“It was really unbelievable that someone in such a high position as him, someone from Congress, was able to look at what I wrote and the work that I put in,” says Serota. “He was really great and took a real interest in what I was doing, and the fact that he followed up and was really passionate about it says something.”
Israel loved the speech and had it published in the Congressional Record.
“Jonathan ran for President of Yale Model Congress and spoke about the need for compromise and commitment to our country,” Israel wrote in a brief introduction. “His words are wise beyond his years and all of the members of this chamber would do well to hear them.”
It was a big deal for Serota, who joined Jericho High School’s Model Congress as a freshman, hoping to one day have the opportunity to run for office at one of these conferences. Serota said he also appreciated the opportunity to talk about the state of Congress today.
“After the government shutdown there was a big feeling across the country that our government wasn’t really working for the people. And we come to this Model Congress to model a body which is really not something to look up to as of now,” he says. “What we do [in Model Congress} is a lot more pure and what the founders intended. There are no political parties, no campaign interests, no political corruption. We have our ideas of what we feel could be good and then we push to get those pieces of legislation passed. It’s really, in my opinion, what Congress should be all about.”
Serota is also captain of the Jericho High School debate team and will attend the University of Pennsylvania this fall as a political science or history major. He’s also getting ready for another Model Congress conference coming up in March.
“Yale Model Congress was a great experience, I learned a lot and I thoroughly enjoyed speaking about something I was really passionate about,” says Serota. “I’m very thankful to the advisors who helped me get there and it was just a great time.”
To read Serota’s entire speech in the Congressional Record, visit Tinyurl.com/ModelCongressJericho.